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Research activity

Turning Away from War in the XXth and XXIst Centuries

Since September 2004, Guillaume Piketty and Bruno Cabanes (Associate Professor, Yale University) have organized a research seminar on “Turning Away from War in the 20th and the 21st Centuries” at Sciences Po. This seminar has explored the following topics:
- The image of the Enemy.
Main topics: “Sexual violence in the aftermaths of WWI and WWII”; “Refugees and DPs in Germany and Poland in 1945-1946”; “’The Enemy Within’ and the repression of collaborators in the aftermaths of WWI and WWII”; “Resistance Fighters, Suffering and Death”.
- Returning from War.
Main topics: “The return of Soviet POWs, Soviet civilians deported to Germany, and Soviet civilians evacuated to Eastern parts of the USSR by Soviet authorities in 1945-1946”; “Veterans’ homecomings in the 20th century”; “Veterans from the Franco-Algerian War”; “The return of French POWs at the end of WWII”; “’The Order of the Liberation’ and the moral economy of recognition after WWII”; “The return of French 'political' deportees in the aftermath of WWII”; Jewish 'displaced persons' in German refugee camps: an international issue in the aftermath of WWII”.
- Cultural Demobilization (John Horne).
Main topics: “Children in the aftermath of WWI”; “Scientific communities in the aftermath of WWI”; “German, English, Italian, and French athletes in WWI: mobilization, combat, and cultural demobilization”; “Architecture and cultural demobilization: the case of Paris after WWI”; “Cultural demobilization after a civil war: the case of Spain”; “Franco-German town-twinning in the aftermath of WWII”; “The NRF (Nouvelle revue française) after WWI”.

A special issue of the online journal Histoire@Politique. Politique, Culture et Société, was published by the Center for History at Sciences Po, presenting the best contributions to the seminar: Bruno Cabanes and Guillaume Piketty (eds.), “Sorties de Guerre au 20ème Siècle”, special number of Histoire@Politique. Politique, Culture et Société,, no. 3, December 2007.

Then, Guillaume Piketty and Bruno Cabanes have increasingly focused their work on the difficult question of “the return to private life” in the aftermath of war, whether for combatants, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, deportees, or displaced persons. This topic has been consistently overlooked in historiography. Yet, in the last few decades, historians have started writing the history of mentalities or sensibilities. But none of these methodological advances have led to a better understanding of the private dimension of the return from war.

The international conference on “The Return to Private Life in the Aftermath of War: From World War I to the Present”, held at Sciences Po, 19-20 June 2008, helped to identify the available sources for writing such a history, and establish a comparative perspective of research topics in the study of 20th century conflicts. The conference was organized thematically as follows:

- Wartime Experience, Personal Writings and Family Histories:

  • Manon Pignot (Université Paris X- Nanterre): “1914-1920: Inventing a New Status for Fathers in the Aftermath of War.”
  • Odile Roynette (Université de Besançon): “Nostalgia for the Front.”
  • Ethan Rundell (University of California, Berkeley): “Silence and Witness: The Difficulty of Speaking Out for French Veterans of World War I.”
  • Raphaëlle Branche (Université Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne): “The Return of an Algerian Conscript to his Family: a Case Study.”

- Public, Private, and Personal Spaces in the Aftermath of War:

  • Carine Trévisan (Université Paris VII): “When the Body is a Stranger?: How to Live With a Body Mutilated by History.”
  • Anne Duménil (Munich): “Living with Ruins: Munich, 1945-1948.”
  • Daniel Cohen (Rice University, Houston): “A Post-War Domestic Space: The Camps for 'Displaced Persons' in Occupied Germany”.
  • Beate Fieseler (Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf): “From ‘Lost Generation’ to Beneficiaries of Social Policy: The War Disabled in the Soviet Union, 1945 – 1964.”
  • Guillaume Piketty (Sciences Po Paris): “When the Clandestine 'Comes Out': Resistance and Identity.”

- The Future of Violence:

  • Guillaume Cuchet (Université Lille III): “War and the Birth of the Worker-Priest Movement: The Case of Henri Perrin (1914-1954).”
  • Christian Goeschel (Birkbeck College, University of London): “Suicide at the End of the Third Reich.”
  • Frank Biess (University of California, San Diego / University of Gottingen): “Postwar Angst. The Fear of Retribution in Postwar Germany.”
  • Bruno Cabanes (Yale University): “The Survivor’s Syndrome: History and Uses of a Concept.”

- Reconstructing Gender Relations and Sexual Identities:

  • Clémentine Vidal-Naquet (EHESS, Paris): “Imagining the Return: The Anticipation of Reunion by Couples in World War I”.
  • Dominique Fouchard (Université Paris X - Nanterre): “The Impact of World War I on Conjugal Relations: The Testimony of the Body”.
  • Peggy Bette (Université Lyon II): “When the Veteran Does not Return: Families in Mourning in the Aftermath of World War I (1918-1924)”.
  • Mary Louise Roberts (University of Wisconsin): “The Myth of the Manly GI: Gender and Photojournalism During World War II”.
  • Sarah Fishman (University of Houston): “Gender, Family Life and the Return of French POWs in 1945: A Reconsideration”.
  • Atina Grossmann (Cooper Union, New York): “Individual Reconstruction as Collective Project: Body, Family, Nation, and the Pursuit of ‘Normality’ Among Jewish Survivors in Postwar Occupied Germany”.

The conference was published as a book in October 2009: Bruno Cabanes and Guillaume Piketty (eds.), Retour à l'intime au sortir de la guerre (The return to private life in the aftermath of war), Paris, Tallandier, 2009, 316p.

Guillaume Piketty and Bruno Cabanes are now working in an interdisciplinary perspective with American civilian and military psychiatrists on war psychiatry in wartime and in the postwar period.
The psychological trauma of war has become a major contemporary preoccupation, especially in the United States, France, and in the rest of Europe. New kinds of combat situations, such as those experienced in ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and new kinds of war violence have led to the development of new pathologies, such as TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) in the ongoing Iraq war, that are not yet fully understood by the medical community.
Guillaume Piketty and Bruno Cabanes’ researches take place, notably, in the research seminar “Shell Shock to PTSD: The History of Wartime Mental Illness and the Evolution of Combat Health Care Policy”. This seminar has been created at Yale University by Bruno Cabanes and Deane Aikins, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and head of a program for treating Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at the Veterans Administration Hospital at West Haven, CT.
This research seminar brings together Yale graduate students, historians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and war veterans. The topics studied in the seminar mirror current preoccupations of the American armed forces, such as the traumatic experience of many veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The seminar focuses on a comparative study of the consequences from exposure to combat stress and mass violence, as well as the evolution of combat health care policy. Perspectives are traced from WWI and displays of “cowardice”, WWI and WWII “shell shock” and “combat fatigue”, PTSD in the Vietnam generation, Gulf War syndrome in Gulf War I veterans, and the current health care status of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom / Operation Enduring Freedom, including the occurrence of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

The following topics are notably studied:
− The history of medical terminology (from “shell shock” to PTSD).
− The status of traumatized combatants within the armed forces.
− The visualization of psychiatric problems (photography, film).
− The issue of pensions awarded to victims of psychological disorders.
− The validity of the concept of “trauma” in non-Western countries, such as Vietnam or Rwanda.